When a young person is in trouble, positive intervention can mean the difference between a bright future and one with challenges. In Kentucky, court designated workers process complaints filed against children under age 18 prior to any action taken in formal court. This gives CDWs the opportunity to help thousands of juveniles every year.
When appropriate, young people are diverted from the formal court system. Those eligible for diversion will not have a formal court record if they successfully complete the supervised program.
The CDW Program began in 1986 when the Kentucky General Assembly established a statewide pre-court program to ensure that diverted youth receive due process and equitable outcomes. The Division of Juvenile Services operates the program, which makes CDWs available 24/7 in every Kentucky county.
Duties of a Court Designated Worker
CDWs are responsible for:
- Processing public and status complaints on children under age 18
- Assisting law enforcement in the custody process
- Conducting preliminary investigations and interviews
- Developing and supervising diversion agreements
The CDW receives all complaints, which fall into two categories, status offenses and public offenses. Status offenses are noncriminal forms of juvenile behavior, such as running away from home, not attending school, tobacco and alcohol offenses, and exhibiting beyond-control behavior at home or at school. Public offenses are defined in the same terms as adult charges.
Anyone can file a complaint against a juvenile, including a police officer, victim, parent or school official. Juveniles who have a complaint filed against them are given the opportunity to meet with a CDW.
Custody Instead of Arrest
Under Kentucky's juvenile justice system, children are taken into custody instead of being arrested. CDWs assist law enforcement officials in finding appropriate placements, such as with parents or guardians, relatives or an emergency shelter. Detention may be authorized by a judge if there are concerns that a juvenile may reoffend, fail to appear for court or be a safety risk.
CDWs always strive to find the least-restrictive option when making placement decisions. They have five alternatives to consider:
- Parent or custodial guardian, unless prohibited by the court for alleged abuse
- Responsible adult, such as a relative, neighbor or friend of family
- Emergency shelter
- Crisis stabilization units, if applicable
- Inpatient mental health assessment, if applicable
The goal of diversion is to reduce further involvement in the court system by providing programs based on education, treatment and accountability. CDWs follow established criteria to determine if a juvenile is eligible to participate in a diversion agreement or if the case, by law, must be referred to formal court.
Eligible juveniles who agree to the informal process enter into a diversion agreement that holds them accountable for past actions and provides tools to manage current behavioral issues. These tools include:
- Prevention and educational programs
- Service learning projects
- Community service
- School attendance
CDWs provide case management and monitoring throughout the diversion program, which can last up to six months. When the juvenile successfully completes diversion, the case is closed and no formal court record is created.